Poetry

Canadian Tourister

Christopher Gudgeon

From Assdeep in Wonder. Published in 2016 by Anvil Press. Above illustration by Mark Uhre (markuhre.com).

Canada is an igloo melting in the sun.

Canada is a wolf-fur parka, hanging on an ice peg

outside of an igloo melting in the sun.

Canada is an Eskimo on a train, with her luggage at her feet,

following the sun as it sets in the west,

thinking of a wolf-fur parka at the door

of her igloo; she eats smoked Lake

Winnipeg goldeye, contemplating Indians

and the RCMP Musical Ride. She is

so far from home.

Canada is a salmon on life-support hidden in the suitcase

of the Eskimo on the train,

she is following the sun as it sets in the never-present west,

thinking of a wolf in fur parka at the door of her igloo

as she eats smoked Lake Winnipeg goldeye,

contemplates Red Indians and the RCMP Musical Ride, so far from home

repeating her mantra — tundra — ’til the word sticks to her lips

like a cherry popsicle in July heat.

She is a sheep in wolf-fur parka, an Edmonton Eskimo,

so far from home, following the

never-setting sun, contemplating golden-eyed gods,

the Musical Ride, rye-and-sevens and the Indians that stick to her lips

like a cherry popsicle on life-support.

Canada is a Cape Breton fiddler pausing to sip his rye-and-maple syrup.

The Cape Breton fiddler is on life-support and, thanks to

Tommy Douglas and Medicare,

hidden in the suitcase of an Eskimo on a train heading west or east

traversing the Rocky Mountains, as the Mounties in perfect formation

chase Sitting Bull to the Dakota boarder. He is so far from home.

Canada is a caribou. Canada is a moose. Canada is a black-tailed deer.

They are wandering. Navigating. Migrating. Concerned ungulates,

trying to make it to the border

before they wear out their welcome.

They are defining themselves in terms of others’ expectations.

They are so far from home.

Canada is not a beaver. Canada is a beaver hat. It is a

salmon on life-support

hidden the suitcase of the Eskimo on the train,

following the sun as it sets in the never present west,

thinking of a wolf in fur parka at the door of her igloo

eating smoked prefab bannock,

contemplating Red Indians and the RCMP Musical Ride

repeating her mantra — tundra — ’til the word melts on her lips

like a cherry popsicle in July heat,

navigating,

migrating,

trying to make it to the border.

She has already worn out her welcome,

she has already defined herself in terms of others’ expectations.

Canada is a hitchhiker on the Highway of Tears;

so far from home.

Canada is a Russian stripper, pressing her tits into the

face of a Japanese businessman, as he slips twenty dollars

into her g-string. They are so lonely and

so far from home.

Canada is not North. That is a lie perpetrated

by Margaret Atwood.

Canada is nowhere and everywhere.

a White Nothing, a Red Everything.

Not a point on a compass,

all points on all compasses,

the magnetic north, south, east and west,

the unnatural loadstone.

Canada is a man-made lake.

A manufactured landscape.

A manufactured literature.

Canada is a navvie laying dynamite, swingin’ his

hammer in the shitty morning sun. It is a Pinoy

boy working the graveyard at Timmy’s

making Maple Dips and Old Fashioned Plains

who scalds his thumb

replacing the coffee filter.

Canada is a long, long poem about Canada.

Canada has no history books,

they are being written as we speak

by navvies and temporary foreign workers,

by strippers and hitchhikers

and runaways who star in post office posters.

Canada is a bag of warm milk, a plastic

udder left in the sun.

Even the cows are lonely, suckling mechanical calves,

no better or worse than other cows

just colder than most and

so far from home.

The Pope has stopped trying to define Canada. He stopped

praying for us when we stopped praying for him.

You have everything you need, he says, you don’t need my help.

The Pope spins an ornate globe, made of alabaster and vellum

everywhere is Canada and not-Canada. Miracles he understands,

but not this.

Canada is a caribou on life-support

hidden in Tommy Douglas’ suitcase,

packed in the back of a panel van

driving the 401, just outside Medicine Hat,

it is a Russian stripper

eating smoked Lake Winnipeg goldeye,

contemplating Red Indians and the RCMP Musical Ride

repeating her mantra — work permit — ’til the words, like hot wax, drip

from her lips.

We are whores of wood.

We are drawers of water-colour landscapes.

Canada is a businessman named Norman or Gord or something

working for CIBC or Rogers Telecom or something

in a suit he got from Moore’s or Harry Rosen or someplace like that

having some beers after work in a strip club on

Yonge St.

Rue St. Catherine

Portage Ave.

texting his wife — Karen? Gail? — who’s on a GO Train somewhere,

going home or something,

and he’s telling her he’ll be home soon: as he waves the

girl over for one more

lap dance.

Canada is a bouquet of wildflowers,

blazing stars, bloodroots,

wild yellow lily and evening primrose,

rotting on the side of Highway 16

just east of Rupert,

it’s a bouquet of names

Delphine Nikal,

Ramona Wilson,

Tamara Chipman,

Shelly Ann Bascu,

left at the side of the road,

migrating names,

no longer moving,

no longer alone,

so far from home.

Canada is a peacekeeper’s bullet,

a priest’s love child,

a barren cow, a moose calf learning to walk

on ice.

Canada is a temporary worker on life support.

The oxygen tank wheezes as he flips the meat patty and

unwraps a slice of Kraft processed cheese;

he’s hidden, like a salmon in a suitcase,

underneath the floorboards,

dreaming of the ever-expanding continent,

thinking of a woman in faux fur,

sipping her double-double as she licks her lips

and contemplates getting a stripper pole installed

in the rec room, because that’s a good workout,

repeating her mantra — core — ’til the word melts,

leaving her lips

the colour of cherry popsicles.

She is navigating.

She is migrating.

She is trying to digest

everything.

She does not know where her border is.

She has never had to find her border.

She will never wear out her welcome.

She understands that she only exists in the minds of others,

and that makes her happy.

Sometimes she is lonely and always

she is so far from home.

Canada is a caribou on life-support

hidden in Tommy Douglas’ suitcase,

packed in the back of a panel van

driving the 401, just outside Medicine Hat

driving Highway 16 east of Prince George

driving No. 4 through Big Pond,

looking for the tell-tale igloo,

looking for the wolves at the door,

it is a Russian stripper

eating smoked Lake Winnipeg goldeye and bannock,

contemplating Red Indians and the RCMP Musical Ride,

repeating her mantra — work permit — ’til the word melts on her lips

trying to make it to the border

before she wears out her visa;

she cinches the housecoat around her waist, blows a kiss

to the businessman nursing a pair of rye-and-cokes

who takes a sip and says to no one in particular:

she is like a poem or a twenty-dollar bill,

she is like a landscape painting of the tundra,

she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,

she’s so, so lonely and so, so very far from home.

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